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Want to be part of the Google Family? It is easier than you think, at a small scale. Ever heard of Google City Experts? People like you and me reviewing their favourite addresses – cafés, restaurants, hotels, boutiques, museums… on the Internet giant’s maps. Simple, user friendly, a few minutes for each text, click, finished. At 5o, you become a Google City Expert and get invited to their amazing evenings. You just need to keep adding 5 reviews minimum per month to be kept in the loop. The events… always wow me. You think you know the town and they still find this cute little place you hadn’t heard of. Everyone you meet is as enthusiastic and passionate as you are - no way you will stay on your own for long. Let me give you an idea. A while ago, they took us to the exceptional ghost tube station, Aldwych… Below are a few pics of last night Seaside party, before everyone arrived. Everything was free, food and drinks included. In exchange for a few reviews. Sandcastle building, photo booth, craft beer, silent disco by The Robin Collective, the extraordinary Travelling Gin and their cocktail bike, balls to play with, ping pong, bunting, finger-licking good BBQ by The Roast of Sherwood and ice cream! What are you waiting for?
Google City Experts
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Summer Holidays! No school run, no homework, no… Oh wait, that means you also have to keep the kids entertained and you’ve already covered all the London must-see places. Don’t worry, we have it sorted. Here are 20 special summer ideas to surprise, amuse and make them laugh out loud (but at least you will have had time to drink a coffee or two)…
1. Go to the beach! Well the one in Camden, at least with its 150 tons of fine sand, its ping pong games, deckchairs and yes, there are refreshments and cool food on site. Free.
2. Buckingham Palace has reopened its doors to the public for the summer, this time with an exhibition on Royal Childhood. If your kids already dream in front of the toys at the V&A Museum of Childhood, they will not resist this gorgeous selection.
4. The Tate Modern has a room just for families, inspired by Matisse’s cut outs. Lovely light and musical effects. Free.
5. Kids too love afternoon teas - a festive side and finger food, you are sure to win them over. Try BB’s, aboard a double decker going around town. Or One Aldwych’s inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
6. Let them discover this poetic trail in King’s Cross. The texts have been written by children. Free.
7. If they do like trails, you’ll find quite a selection to download here, organised by neighbourhood. They are quite fun and should keep them rather busy!
8. At Kew Gardens, a multi-sensory walk takes you on a stroll between the trees, a path to walk barefoot.
9. On Saturday mornings, the Soho Hotel has a Children’s film club with a buffet (and a glass of prosecco for parents).
10. They’re longing for a pet but you neither have the space nor the time? Here is an easy compromise: Lady Dinah’s emporium, the first cat café in London. Feline fascination guaranteed.
11. Enjoy Kid’s Week, which in fact lasts the whole of August. Kids can go free to quite a number of shows and musicals (Billie Elliot, War Horse, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda…)
12.Too hot? Click here to find fountains in which the little ones can play. Free.
14. Did you know kids can follow a Sonic Trail at the Tate Modern? Borrow a MP3 player – it’s free – and discover lots of different sounds around the museum, some linked to the paintings, others referring to the place at night… As if it had a life of its own.
15. Make the most of your time out! On Saturdays, the Spitalfields City Farm hosts a small market.
16. No need to go to Camden anymore to find liquid nitrogen ice creams. Just stop at Somerset House (they have fun fountains too) and indulge in one of Churn2‘s delicious creations. You are sure to wow the kids.
17. Rediscover Alice in Wonderland, on stage this time, played in the adorable garden behind Covent Garden’s church.
18. Let them climb trees at Alexandra Park.
19. Try the Family trail at the Barbican and get to know all the secret places. Free.
20. The Royal Parks have a fascinating nature program for kids this summer covering everything from insects to a camping evening with a fire (and hopefully some marshmallow toasting).
When I started this roadtrip, I expected a certain weariness. After all, how many canyons can you see before thinking they all look the same. Dozens, hundreds it seems. This is the extraordinary thing about National Parks. Each has a personality of its own, wowing you differently. They sweep you off your feet. Just look at these below, of Bryce. The erosion created such strange columns from the soft sandstone, called hoodoos. They’re quite fascinating, sometimes leaving heavy shapes suspended on thin rock threads. Other times, they form arches like the so well named Tower Bridge you will see below. Compare them to the still intact mesas around, see the parallels in the strata to better understand the geological history unfolding. These are pictures from the Fairyland Loop Trail, a quite magical four hour hike through the statuesque sandstone spires…
A rather extraordinary Saturday morning. Getting up at dawn to jump on a train to London, the sky still orange and misty. Discovering Anges de Sucre, the cutest macaron and marshmallow boutique in London, falling for every treat, taking a whole selection, trying not to eat everything in the taxi. Rushing to Marylebone, marveling at my beloved Pâtisserie des Rêves, leaving with a pink bag, very Liberty style. Picking flowers at Titania’s Garden. Ready! Time to style these around Another Country‘s gorgeous collection. Quite an amazing shop on two levels, mixture of Scandinavian and Flemish atmosphere, the furniture sometimes showing a Quaker influence. Superb wood, lovely grain. An architect’s dream in the pure lines and the curves embellished with a peripheral highlight of colour. At every step, you’ll be adding more items to your wish-list. Same simplicity in the accessories, just catching the light, radiating beauty, framing cakes to perfection. Our favourites are below, have a look!
18 Crawford Street
The furniture is divided in Series, each with a different vibe and feel. If you are in Marylebone, do go and check the shop out. It’s only a couple minutes away, the banquettes and desks are fantastic!
And the sweets? Divine macarons and marshmallows by Anges de sucre & sublime cakes and bites by La Pâtisserie des Rêves. Imagine the torture of arranging them while not being able to taste them!
1. Saint Honoré & bouchées pour enfants – La Pâtisserie des Rêves
2. Macarons Pina Colada, All Americana, Moccachino – Anges de sucre
3. Macarons matcha & lavande – Anges de sucre
4. Macarons Wimbledon, Raspberry ripple, Amalfi citron & lavande – Anges de sucre
5. Brioche & dragées – La Pâtisserie des Rêves
6. Parfait vanille – La Pâtisserie des Rêves
7. Macarons matcha & lavande, marshmallows – Anges de sucre / sucre, bouchée pour enfants – La Pâtisserie des Rêves
8. Macaron Pina Colada – Anges de sucre
Driiiiiing! Hear that bell? It marks the summer holidays… The kids are overexcited by so much sun and freedom. And there are 6 weeks to fill. There’s no need to break the bank though, why not start by getting the board games out? They tend to get forgotten in a drawer, TV preferred over classics. It was teatime so we decided to give a modern touch to Twister by placing strategic Perk!er treats on the colourful carpet - the delicious Rocky Road and Tiffin bites are the perfect size, irresistible! Followed lots of giggles, lots of munching, and balancing acts to grab (sometimes with only their teeth) a mouthful of cake on a yellow circle while the left hand was on the green and the right foot on the red. Or to drink over all this with the straw. I gather there might have been some cheating too and a fair amount of crumbs. But definitely pink cheeks and happy kids. By the way, this would work great for picnics! Now, I just need the equivalent as a draughts board to play Tiffins against Rocky Roads and devour any captured…
Gluten and wheat free but full of happiness! #summerperk
Perk!er, gloriously gluten free
Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Asda
Summer calls for parties. Any occasion will do. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to involve lots of cooking and it doesn’t have to be expensive. For this one we just got a couple boxes of Perk!er treats - Rocky Road bites with lots of chocolate, biscuits and marshmallows, ideal for sharing. They are gluten free but everybody absolutely loves them. You can, if you really want to indulge, use them for a chocolate fondue… Go crazy. Get out all those accessories stocked for nice occasions (and in the end, barely used). Go bright pink, then add turquoise and neon green. It’s July, it’s allowed, it works. Put fruit with the cakes and sprinkle with a rain of tiny flowers. Tea should be served iced (and possibly with sunglasses). Sometimes, just a little imagination is enough to make you feel on holiday in the garden…
Gluten and wheat free but full of happiness! #summerperk
Perk!er, gloriously gluten free
Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Asda
Propose a gluten-free snack to a friend on a normal diet and just watch their reaction. Perplexed usually sums it up well. In people’s minds, gluten-free definitely means fun-free. Then again, at the beginning, it probably was. The first range of products were practical, forgetting the flavour factor altogether. Basics only. These days, supermarkets always have a few shelves dedicated to these and they taste much, much better. However, if you’re looking for something a bit fancier, you will have to go fishing, a little in this shop, a little more in that, juggling around.
Or you could try Freego, an extraordinary collection of the best gluten free products on the market, selected from all around the world. Some in my shopping bag were American, others French. Quality wise, this is more deli than supermarket. Being a foodie and rather curious, I had quite a fun time. Choosing and devouring! I did expect the bill to be high but no, it proved quite reasonable. My order below was just under £20.
Bonus point for the delivery option - within 24 hours and you will receive a SMS when it is ready to go, confirming the day and time window. And even the possibility to text back and ask for the driver to bring it a day later or leave it at your neighbour’s.
Verdict? I knew the products would be good but they were better than that. Refined, even. Like going to Selfridges and choosing from their latest trends. But hey, have a look at my selection below, it will give you a feel. The pumpkin bread mix was rather a hit, filling the house with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg while in the oven. A lighter (and better) version of gingerbread. Another favourite was rice cakes covered in super delicious dark chocolate. You will forget any junk food snack instantly. This is a hundred times better and no, I am not exaggerating. What else? Really satisfying fettuccine made with mungo beans, more Spring like. Super savoury-sweet, bacon-maple syrup popcorn that really wowed the kids. Dried physalis, golden berries bringing a lovely tart taste, a nice change from the usual dried fruit.
A real booty for any foodie, no matter whether you are coeliac or not. Collections are cleverly organised in lunch box, on the go, kids, dinner party, just in case… Makes life so much easier.
Use the code REFER10-7dsa8d3h2 to get £10 off an order of £20 or more. Give it a try!
27 degrees, sun shining high, yes, summer is here for real. It’s picnic time, my friends! Last minute idea, no time to prepare anything? Mark & Spencer has just launched a special deli collection, inspired by South America and the Eastern Med. So forget classics for a while, indulge. We tried the smoked Lochmuir salmon, rich, just the right hint of salt, sharpened by a lime, chilli and ginger dressing, zesty, wakes you up a little. Still on the seaside, how about chargrilled calamari to be dipped in a spicy sauce with a little mint, fresh spring onions and herbs. It’s even better as a mini skewer combined with the ruby and golden beetroot medley, marinated in a basalmic and maple dressing. It’s fun, it’s different and it makes lunch time so much more interesting than eating a triangle sandwich over your desk.
To be tasted too: tequila-lime chicken wings, tomato-basil hummus, mini kebabs with pomegranate and cumin, soy-lemongrass-chilli chicken and more!
Smoked Scottish Lochmuir™ Salmon with a zesty Lime, Chilli & Ginger Dressing, £6, 160g
Chargrilled Calamari with Lime, Chilli & Mint, £4.50, 140g
Ruby & Golden Beetroot Medley, £3, 150g
Christmas in July? Yes, it is too early to see anything on the shelves yet (thank God) but shop managers, magazines are already working on it, finding the right trends, wondering what will make you dream, seduce your imagination this year, stocking up, photoshooting… These are the real Santa’s Elves, trying to make the christmas shopping experience sparkle with glitter.
I will be going to a number of press days in the coming weeks but to me the real treat is Carluccio’s. Always a privilege, always a feast from the decor to the dolce vita atmosphere. I finger-cross for my favourite sweets to still be on the top list, long to discover the new ones, to walk from one range to another with a succulent piece of cake or nougat.
This year, the collection found inspiration in Napoli. Right outside the door, the landscape had already changed to an impressive orange tree loaded with fruit. And surrounded with snow. It’s Christmas, after all. On the side sat a giant panettone, encouraging the visitors’ appetites. And yet, it was ever so nice, in this sunshine, to sit down on the stone benches and sip a citrus granita.
The tasting soon begins and believe me, you can’t help but smile. The favourites are still there: Clementine in camicia, clementine quarters dipped in rich chocolate (a must have!), baci di dama (a biscuit known as the ladies’ kisses), meringues wrapped in gianduja, stelle di natale, star shaped biscuits presented in jars. Panettones (classic or chocolate, yes two of them, dark and milk shavings) boxes are covered with gold letters, the pandore with Venitian style marbled paper. Both can be topped with a flame fountain if you want to put a show on (and yes, you do. Or you should. When else can you wow people with such things?).
On my love at first sight (or bite, depending on the case) list… Two hampers particularly caught my attention – one celebrating lemon (includes amongst other rewards a divine lemon olive oil), another chocolate (with surprising cacao parpadelle). At £30 and £25, you will struggle to find a better quality/price ratio for a foodie gift! The lovely glass biscuit jars are back too and there are tin boxes too for biscotti and coffee, an irresistible vintage touch.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will fall for the Perle di Mandorloto (torrone, almonds, honey rolled in caramel and white chocolate balls), the pistachio torrone, the fichi al rhum (figs, walnuts, candied citrus and rum – this will make your cheeks go slightly pink), limoncello rum babas (although you probably will have devoured them before they reach the friend or relative they were meant for).
Also, as addictive as popcorn, a Napolitan specialty, stuffoli. Deep fried tiny pieces of dough, rolled in honey, hundreds and thousands and candied fruit. Delicious. Sadly, I’ll have to wait until November for these to reach the shelves… But it’s first on my list and I’m not sharing!
Being a froggie, I am often asked – is there anything you particularly miss from France?
Real bread with excellent cheese.
In the beginning, I wondered whether England only produced Cheddar, Stilton and Wensleydale. The list is much longer, of course and much more interesting. However, finding the good ones is a bit trickier. Not if you live in London – great cheesemongers there (Neal’s Yard, Paxton and Whitfield to only name the most famous) and fabulous markets. Now if you live in say, Farnborough, no fromager around. The nearest farmer’s market is once every two weeks, a one hour drive.
I need a magic formula that would make a cheese platter appear on the table, effortless.
And I found it. Just say (well, type) The Dairy Girl.
This is the best foodie box on the market as far as I am concerned. I’m French – trust me. One of those surprise boxes you subscribe and receive once a month with the impatience of a child on Christmas day. There are 3 options to choose from – taster (4 to try), classic (5, it’s all in the name, ideal comfort food!), gourmet (5, more on the adventure side. Don’t hesitate, go straight to this one). The idea of course is to enjoy and discover, never knowing what will come your way. You can however tweak what you do or don’t like and it will be tailored to your taste. Rachel is passionate and about knowing the artisans doing the hard work, making a point of getting all the details just right. She will not compromise on quality. You know it from her very first email. I love her all the more for it.
The parcel arrives on the set day, well packaged with paper straw, very countryside like, bringing a hint of nostalgia, and tiny frozen cushions to keep it fresh all along. It reminds me of school fairs, trying to find a surprise in a barrel, the excitement of it. Each cheese comes with a very precise card, written in a warm, friendly way. You’ll learn everything about it – name, origin, type of milk, anecdotes of the way it was made, which wine to match it to, how best to serve it. I am very fond of the proposed twists – melt the Keltic gold and add a pinch of nutmeg. Crumble the Cornish Blue on sauteed leeks and mushrooms. Brilliant.
I took the cheeses out of the box. One by one. The wrapping made me happy - proper cheesemonger style. I tried to guess them by shape alone, tried to imagine them from their name. I love the way a piece of cheese owns the space around it. It has a physical presence – tall and towering, lower, cream and ash, marbled and artistic. Then the aroma, milky or strong, overtaking your senses.
Patience has its limits – it was time to try them. The creamy, perfect Pont L’Eveque (I had to be patriotic on that one, it had to be the first). Then another way to discover England. From Corwall, a beautiful Cornish Blue, subtle, slightly salty, then exploding in flavours. And a Keltic Gold, the rind washed with cider, filling the mouth, supple, I have a thousand recipes planned for this one. From Somerset, a fabulous Tor, creamy, refreshing, a hint of lemon, very addictive. And my favourite, a real gem, Smoked Wedmore, crossed by a line of chives, to which I always go back, slightly sweet, between the grass at the end of summer and a fire in the hearth in autumn.
This gourmet selection has 900g of cheese – enough to be shared for quite some time without sacrificing your appetite. Then again, these are cheeses with a personality, fulfilling flavours. They do not call for excess, just ask to be enjoyed with as much love as rachel put into choosing them. Preferably several times a day starting with breakfast.